A New Flavor of Bug

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I found out about chapulines, edible grasshoppers, right away when I started my work on Zapotec and probably even ate them first in the US.  (Can’t say I much cared for what I got there–seemed like stale popcorn with legs that had a bad habit of getting caught in your throat.)  Somehow, though, the existence of another edible insect in Oaxaca–chicatanas–had escaped my notice for more than 14 years. Thankfully, this gap in my knowledge has now been remedied.

My sister-in-law brought a bag of 20 or so of them home the other day, still alive.  They are leaf cutter ant queens, which appear in number during the rainy summer to fly off and start a new colony.  Wikipedia describes the process thusly:

Once a year, a colony, consisting of one queen and many thousands of workers, produces reproductive individuals called alates which have a different morphology, including wings for flight. After these individuals leave the nest of the parent colony, mating occurs high in the air with each female mating with between three and eight males (Wirth, et al., 2003). Colonies in close proximity conduct nuptial flights at close to the same time, increasing outbreeding. Males die after the mating flight. The queens then store the sperm acquired from the males in spermathecae, which they will use to found a new colony. Mortality for queens during mating is estimated to be as high as 52% (Wirth, et al., 2003).

After a few days, the ants had died.  My sister-in-law removed the abdomens from the ants, the rest of the ant body apparently having too strong a taste to eat.  (A little unsettling to think what may make the abdomens more palatable in light of the above description.)  Then, she toasted the abdomens and ground up with some chiles to make a salsa.  The ants infused the salsa with their strong, earthy taste (edit 6/22/12: the MacZ word for an earthy taste is idiá’).  Not bad really.  I see there are other ways to eat them–a whole taco full?–I wouldn’t mind trying it.  Might be a bit expensive though.  Someone else said her son collects them and can sell them for a peso each.  That could result in a very expensive taco, though I’m not really sure you would need that many.  It seems a little goes a long way.

Apparently, there’s no word for these things in Macuiltianguis Zapotec; it’s too cold for them there.  I’ll have to check to see what the words might be for them in other, warmer areas.

Now, it leaves me wondering what other edible bugs are out there.  If nothing else, maybe I should give chapulines another try.


One comment

  1. […] After posting about edible ant queens recently, edible insects seem to be wherever.  First, on Saturday here in Oaxaca I saw a whole […]

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